Time to get this thing going again…
Just got back from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) convention in Kansas City, Missouri. Buddied up with TSS’s Rob Dattilo to save some money on hotels and cabs but the highlight of travelling with Rob was watching his determination to eat everything that was put before him no matter how big the serving. No easy feat in Kansas.
There were about 3000 coaches from the States, Canada and seemingly even a few from Britain made the journey to one of the stranger cities I’ve been to. With a city population of about 500 000 and a metro population just over 2 000 000, I can only surmise they must all be experts at hide and seek because it felt very much like a ghost town save for the adidas clad hordes around the (excellent) Kansas City Convention Center. Here’s a rundown of how it went.
We asked the cab driver on the way in from the airport what he liked best about Kansas. He said the women. “Kansas City women are beautiful.” He was from Kurdistan. We liked the World War 1 Museum. Moving on.
We arrived late afternoon on the Wednesday and hit the ground running going straight to the convention with our bags to check in. Once we had our passes and check in materials we shot upstairs to catch NSCAA Assistant Director of Coaching, Douglas J. Williamson, Ph. D., doing one of the day’s few on field sessions. Interesting take on the topic, Phase of Play: Attacking with Five in the Midfield delivered with well-rehearsed positivity. “Stop. I love what you did there but can we make it look more like this.” American coaches who are well drilled in NSCAA mantras are very aware of the language and tone they use working with kids. It’s great pedagogy-wise but a lot about the NSCAA seems to have a stiff formal air to it and that extends to the general on-field demeanour. You could see the difference when it was a European clinician working with players. Especially when the players, as we would witness later, weren’t able to do what was required…
The Kansas Convention Center is very big and located in the supposed heart of the city. Even with thousands in the building there was never a sense of overcrowding or bottlenecks with people trying to get from A to B and having to fight through crowds. Lots of signage to help you get where you wanted to go. More than enough tiered bleachers to give you good vantage points for the on field sessions and large seminar rooms for the classroom sessions. Could’ve used a few more food options on site.
Well staffed with lots of people there to get you accredited and help you with what you need and where you need to go.
Got to our hotel five minutes south of downtown and then out to one of two BBQ restaurants the cabbie had recommended: Jack Stacks BBQ. Excellent. Portions, even by American standards were ridiculous.
Vendors and regulars were quick to say how much smaller this year’s version was but there were still somewhere around 3-4000 in attendance. Apparently when it’s on the east coast there are double what we had in Kansas. Field sessions were still well attended though and while the organizers and trade show exhibitors were probably not enthused by the numbers it didn’t affect the experience for coaches as the choices each day were many and varied. Next year they go to Indianapolis before two back to back years in Philadelphia. A rare west coast appearance comes to Los Angeles in either 2016 or 2017.
After a fairly basic session from University of Cincinnati coach, Hylton Dayes, on Fun Finishing Games (well organized, similar demeanour to Williamson – Dayes is listed as NSCAA Academy Senior Staff) it was time for the first session I saw from a European coach.
Paul Powers, a U15 Academy Team Coach from Manchester City FC Academy did a very good session on Movement of Strikers. He’s right out the Jack the Lad school of coaching. Engaging and effective, you know he is going to find a few laughs along the way. After seeing one too many horrow show crosses, he stopped the session and said to the latest offender, “A former coach of mine at Citeh (translation: City) told me once, ‘Powers, you couldn’t cross the street.’ By now he’s staring and pointing at the shocker-crosser. He waits a second then goes with “But I think that’s inappropriate to say to kids so let’s move on.”
He seemed to have been given a group of players that had a fairly wide range of ability (both ability on the ball and ability to understand his Manc accent and humour) so he didn’t always get the desired effect from the set up but he kept the energy up and eventually coaxed suitable performances from the players so those in attendance could get a handle on what he was trying to get over. His coaching style set him apart from some of the other coach-by-numbers instructors who check their personalities (I hope) when they strap on a clipboard and a whistle. Powers just focused on getting his points across, made some changes on the fly when it didn’t work well and brought the audience in for the ride. Guys like this could, if there was a steady circuit of these conventions, easily make a living going from one to the other.
Next up was a classroom session from Freya Coombe who works with girls and women’s teams at Reading FC as well as being a Senior Lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University. Her one hour allotment was more time than she needed as she whipped, a bit nervously, through a thought provoking but not entirely compelling talk entitled Understanding the Game: Examining Player-Centred Coaching Approaches. The gist was that there are five coaching styles ranging from autocratic, “my way or the highway” approaches to fully democratic whereby players have a large say not just in deciding what they need to work on but how they should go about it in training. Coombe favours empowering players by veering sharply to the latter. I’d need more convincing and a better explication of how this would work at different age group and levels.
Fourth session of the day was in an overpacked seminar room (probably 500 people there) for an even more thought provoking talk from UEFA Instructor Kevin McGreskin (any more Scots at this thing and you’d have sworn you were dropped into Trainspotting) on Developing Vision and Awareness. Sounds a bit airy fairy but it revolved around the idea that we need to get players to “take a look” around them far more often and it’s not enough to simply tell them to do so. We have to have tactile ways of teaching them how to do so. Heavy on Xavi quotes (so naturally I quickly warmed to the subject) and the use of a 15 second clip of Frank Lampard looking over his shoulders more often than a teenage shoplifter. As Rob said afterwards it was heavy on the importance of vision but light on how you actually do that. We would discover that McGreskin’s on field session on Saturday would more than provide that side of the equation.
One session, the last of the day, by current Australian national team coach, Tom Sermanni, served as a reminder that you can be a very high level coach but that it doesn’t necessarily translate to being an effective coach instructor. A rather strange session that began with 14 year old girls playing 9v5 in a 16×14 box never really clicked into gear and the focus of the session topic never seemed to materialize in either the game play or the points being made to players and the crowd. The sessions was billed as Transition Play but labelled “Advanced”, which very few very were. The coaching points though never really went beyond stopping play to tell a player she’d “switched off” when the ball had changed possessions from one team to the other. Probably just a bad day for the instructor but a reminder that coaching a team is an entirely different venture than coach development.
I’ll write up the second half of the trip in the next day or two…